The Compact Truck Market is Heating Up


The year is 2012 and the United States of America is battling its way out of a devastating financial crisis.

Long story short, fuel efficient, less-expensive vehicles become the name of the game. Car buyers want to conserve their precious funds that remain, opting to leave the truck market to find a vehicle more suited to saving a few bucks.

One segment is all but dismantled in the turmoil. The compact trucks, though not the most popular segment, go the way of the dodo bird, for all intents and purposes. Only a few remain and the outlook is bleak. A few Nissan Frontiers and some Toyota Tacomas are left on the lot, occasionally bought by those needing a truck but not requiring a full-size model.

Skip forward just a few years. It’s now 2016 and the segment that seemed to be endangered is now thriving and growing. Fuel prices have dropped and the economy has stabilized somewhat, and those wary buyers are returning to a vehicle segment that was in danger of extinction.

Compact trucks aren’t for everyone, but they are perfect for those who don’t require massive payload or towing abilities. They are ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, campers, out-of-town commuters, and even some light commercial uses. They handle inclement weather masterfully and put up much better fuel efficiency numbers than the full-size trucks do.

Rise of the Compact Trucks

It’s really no wonder the compact truck market is heating up with new players getting into the game. Here are some current and upcoming compact trucks to watch for.

2016 Toyota Tacoma

The Tacoma has been a dutiful servant in the compact truck segment. It’s been the best of the best for a long time and didn’t receive the attention it deserved – until now. The 2016 Toyota Tacoma went from being the nerdy kid who skipped prom to the quarterback of the football team. Tacoma has the dashing good looks with a totally revamped exterior, glistening with chrome accents on a bold, angular grille and hood. The 2016 Toyota Tacoma has an aggressive, forward slant that gives the appearance of dominance and agility.

What you won’t find in the Tacoma is humility. Everything about the 2016 Tacoma, from the rugged yet sophisticated interior to the supremely capable 3.5-liter V6 with 278 horsepower (although the 2.7-liter, 159 hp engine is a seldom-chosen option) screams confidence. No doubt, the 2016 Toyota Tacoma will continue to light things up in the compact truck market.

2016 Chevrolet Colorado

The baby brother to the Silverado used to be a frail, sickly child with plasticky rattles and a problem-plagued engine that underperformed. Now, after the few years on hiatus, the Colorado is stepping up its game. The Colorado really is a whole new truck. You can actually fit passengers in the back seat unlike the previous design and you don’t feel like you “cheaped out” buying this truck. The interior is quite luxurious with soft touches and high-quality materials, and if you pick any step up from the base model, it’s quite well equipped with tech features right down to 4G LTE WiFi.

It gets even more interesting once you look at your engine choices. There are the typical 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder engine options with power up to 305hp, but then there’s the unique option to choose a 4-cylinder Duramax diesel in the Z71. Not only will you achieve fantastic fuel efficiency but clean, powerful operation with up to 7,700 pounds of towing capacity. A tidy little package, this 2016 Colorado…

2016 Nissan Frontier

Nissan hasn’t revamped or even freshened up the Frontier since its second-generation release in 2004. The interior was fairly bold and rugged back then, but it has never been a refined truck. The Frontier has been a pillar of the compact truck community, standing the test of time where other models failed to stick around. That’s because the durable, rugged Frontier is so capable. The Frontier looks good for its age with a splash of chrome and textured plastic here and there. It isn’t breaking any fuel efficiency records, achieving only 22 miles per gallon on the highway with its most popular engine, the 4.0-liter V6 with 261 horsepower. It does tow quite nicely, though, with 6,300lbs of towing capacity. Expect a complete makeover of the Nissan Frontier in the next couple of years, possibly even for the 2018 model year.


2017 Honda Ridgeline

One of the most anticipated releases in 2016 is the new Honda Ridgeline, slated to be released for the 2017 model year. It’s a major shift from the non-traditional design Honda employed on the previous generation, doing away with the angular sides that made people either love or hate the old Ridgeline. While the new Ridgeline will still have a 3.5-liter engine, the drivetrain is completely new. You’ll have the option to choose either a front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive variant which sets the Ridgeline apart from the rear-wheel drive dominant competition. You’ll still see the dual-action tailgate and the in-bed trunk that make Ridgeline a standout previously, and the inside will be packed with a whole host of tech features. This Ridgeline will have a payload around 1,600lb, meaning it can act like a real truck. Let’s see if its design will be as attractive to buyers without those crazy bed sides.

2017 Jeep Wrangler Pickup

It’s been rumored for years and frankly, it seemed like it would never come to fruition. Jeep hasn’t had a pickup truck since the Comanche that retired in the nineties but FCA has announced it will begin production on the truck that should arrive late in 2017. It’s the first time the Wrangler will be made into a pickup truck aside from concept designs like the Gladiator or the J-12 Concept, or the conversion kits that have been made available for 5 years or so. It will be just as capable and rugged as the current Wrangler though exact specs haven’t been announced as of yet.

Hyundai Santa Cruz Pickup

Unofficially, Korean carmaker Hyundai is getting into the small truck business. The Santa Cruz pickup truck concept was shown off over a year ago and was quite well received at the time. Demand for compact trucks has been picking up and this Santa Cruz could target the lower end of those buyers. The Santa Cruz pickup is based on a compact utility vehicle (CUV) so it will be likely the smallest truck on the market, ideal for CUV owners who need a little extra functionality. While we don’t know exactly when it will be released or even if it will make its way to North America, the Hyundai Santa Cruz pickup is an innovative vehicle that could excite many a truck buyer.